Article written with the precious contribution of Virginia Pellegrin.
My previous post on the Sacra di San Michele ended with the promise to talk about the Lakes of Avigliana, because, being on the road to the Sacra, the town of Avigliana and its lakes are an inevitable stop. But what to see or do in Avigliana? Follow me, and today we will take a walk together around Avigliana and its lakes.
“Legend has it that Avigliana, in very distant times, was a rich and flourishing village, located where the two lakes are today. Its inhabitants, famous for their wickedness, were put to the test by God who appeared in the village in the guise of a beggar. He knocked on every door and begged for some refreshment, but was rejected and mistreated everywhere. Only a poor old woman, who lived a life of hardship in a ramshackle cottage, welcomed him and fed him with the last piece of bread that she had in the pantry.
On that night, between lightning, thunder and terrifying seismic shocks, two frightening chasms opened up in the ground and the town was engulfed by water. In the light of dawn, the town no longer existed and in its place two large and deep lakes had formed, divided by a small strip of land on which remained the poor house of the merciful old woman who was the only survivor of the divine punishment “.
Did you know this legend? In reality, today we know that the Avigliana lakes are two small lakes of morainic origin: created, that is, during the last two great prehistoric glaciations, by the accumulation of water in the spaces between different moraines that the Susa Valley glacier produced in its retreat upstream.
The town of Avigliana is located just 20 km from Turin and is located in the Rivoli-Avigliana morainic amphitheatre, between Mount Pirchiriano, on which the Sacra di San Michele stands, and the hill of Rivoli. Its historic centre still preserves the memories of its glorious medieval past. We park the car in Che Guevara square and are immediately struck by the scenic view of the ruins of Avigliana Castle and, in the background, the Sacra di San Michele.
So let’s start our walk in search of medieval evidence: we are in the historic centre and our mission is not difficult. The streets are very narrow, cobbled and flanked by exposed brick walls and low arcades with pointed arches …. we are in the Middle Ages! Now we see a beautiful tower, particularly decorated, that reminds us of something familiar, already seen …. It is the so-called Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower), an octagonal tower from the end of the fourteenth century, which however does not have a clock!
It seems that it is called this way to record and bear witness to the great economic prosperity of the village at the end of the fourteenth century: it appears, in fact, that since 1330, near this octagonal tower, the real Clock Tower stood, a corner tower that housed only the second public clock that ever existed in Italy (after that of Saint Eustorgius in Milan). But why is this beautiful tower so familiar to us? Because in the Borgo Medievale (Medieval Village) of Turin there is a very faithful reproduction of this tower inside the so-called Cortile di Avigliana (Avigliana Courtyard).
Not only that, demonstrating that Avigliana in medieval times was a thriving village, with important buildings, even the historic residences, Casa Senore and Casa della Porta Ferrata, were taken as a model by the medievalist Alfredo D’Andrade for the construction of the Casa di Avigliana in the Borgo Medievale (Avigliana House in the Medieval Village), thus we continue our journey in search of these two important testaments.
After a few minutes, we arrive in front of a facade decorated in fine detail: it is what remains of the fourteenth-century Casa di Porta Ferrata. We note the two Gothic arches and the very refined terracotta decorations: heads of men and animals, fantastic figures and then trefoil mullioned windows, capitals, corbels, and battlements.
We continue and in just over 5 minutes we arrive at the Casa Senore. Also, in this case, only the facade and the portico are originally from the fourteenth-century. The beauty of this house, also known as the Bishop’s House, is the herringbone-textured walls and the ornate stone capitals.
From here we return towards the centre, from which we move slightly away and head towards the Castle of Avigliana. We walk an uphill path surrounded by greenery and arrive at the top of Mount Pezzulano where we find the remains of what was once a castle. Its origins date back to the 10th century when it was built by the will of the Arduinici marquises of Turin, then it passed to the Savoy family who in the fourteenth century transformed it from a defensive fort to a residence. It was definitively destroyed during the French raid at the end of the seventeenth century under the command of General Catinat.
Once you have admired the ruins, look up and beyond and enjoy an exceptional panoramic view of the lakes on one side and the medieval city on the other. The climb to the top of the mountain was definitely worth it! Now we retrace our steps down to reach the main square of medieval life: Piazza Conte Rosso (Count Rosso Square). This square is surrounded by arcades with pointed arches and an ancient well almost in the centre. The well dates back to the fourteenth century, while the square was built around the twelfth century, and was the nerve centre of medieval life and the site of markets and fairs.
Here we make a stop. We rest and refresh ourselves, because now the most naturalistic part of the walk awaits us, the lakes! We return to the square to pick up the car (if you have small children the walk becomes really too long, but if you are all adults, fit and you want to walk, you can do it all on foot!) and head towards the Lago Grande (Great Lake).
Having parked the car and walked a short distance, we arrive at the shores of the lake and we already see people in beach mode … yes, because Lake Avigliana is one of the 7 Piedmontese lakes where you can swim. In the part near the sailing club, a natural swimming pool has also been opened with buoys, ladders and boulders that line the promenade.
Today, we dedicate ourselves only to the walk. I have always liked the lake panorama, with its variety of colors and vegetation that frame this stretch of water. The calls of the birds, the ducks swimming and chasing each other, the slow pace: the walk to the lake is very relaxing!
And so our escape from the heat that brought us to the Sacra di San Michele ends here on the Great Lake of Avigliana to take pictures of an irresistible sunset!